Y Academy programs offer options for academic support, child care

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RED BANK – When local school district administrators announced they would start the 2020-21 school year with a blend of in-person and remote learning for students, working parents like Dr. John Vaclavik and his wife, Barbara, of Fair Haven were worried.

They were trying to figure out how they could balance the new hybrid learning model for their four children in grade school and continue with their professional careers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic struck during the spring, they juggled their schedules to help their children navigate the new normal of Zoom classes and online learning after schools were closed and youngsters had to spend the rest of the 2019-20 academic year learning at home, according to a press release.

“I would sit in my car and take calls while the kids played in the front yard,” said Barbara, a licensed clinical social worker for the Visiting Nurse Association. “I did my best to help them with their online schoolwork, which was new to them and me, and I worked long hours to stay connected with my clients.”

Dr. Vaclavik, an OB-GYN, shifted his office hours to help with the children’s virtual learning and to make it all work for the family.

The Vaclaviks were relieved when they heard the Red Bank Family YMCA was offering a new program this fall where their children could spend time on the days when they were not physically in school, according to the press release.

“There were so many times when the Y has been there for me and my family,” said Barbara Vaclavik, who is a longtime Y member. “This was a lifesaver for us because we needed help for the children with remote learning and a safe place for them to go.”

The three younger Vaclavik children attend the Y Academy in Red Bank three days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The oldest, a sixth-grader, stays at home with supervision from a babysitter, who also helps all the children when the school day ends.

Coincidentally, the Vaclaviks originally met their sitter at the YMCA Child Watch room.

“Our kids are happy going to the Y and after they finish their remote schoolwork with the help of YMCA staff, they can enjoy lots of supervised activities,” Mrs. Vaclavik said.

The YMCA of Greater Monmouth County created its new Y Academy program this year to help support local families and schools with evolving needs in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the press release.

“One of our main goals was to provide convenient, flexible and safe child care options, and academic support for working parents in our community,” President and CEO Laurie Goganzer was quoted as saying in the press release.

The Y Academy is now available at five YMCA facilities in the region: the Freehold Family YMCA, the Freehold Borough YMCA Community Center, the Old Bridge Family YMCA, the YMCA Children’s Achievement Center in Matawan and the Red Bank Family YMCA.

In Red Bank, there are more than 60 children enrolled in the Y Academy. Children attend two or three days a week for a full day or a half-day. The children log in to their virtual classes from a personal device and receive help with schoolwork from YMCA staff and volunteers, according to the press release.

The Y offers non-contact activities like yoga and STEAM challenges (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), and the children get to spend time outdoors. They also take part in mindfulness activities.

The Y is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health department guidelines during the pandemic, said Stacey Lastella, vice president of Child Achievement. Children and staff members wear masks, health screenings take place at drop-off, and children and parents are temperature checked, she noted.

In addition to the Y Academy, the Y provides before- and after-school care in 15 Monmouth County school districts, and full-day kindergarten and full-time child care in Freehold and Matawan to support local families.

Sliding scale financial assistance is available for all programs based on need, according to the press release.

“The Y Academy is another commitment to supporting families and children in the greater Monmouth County community,” Goganzer said.

Goganzer said community volunteers are welcome to lend a hand at the Y Academy as part of the nonprofit organization’s Togetherhood volunteer initiative.

“It’s a great way to come together as a community to support families and children though this new norm,” she said.

For information about the Y Academy and other YMCA programs, visit www.ymcanj.org

Individuals who are interested in volunteering at a Y Academy may contact Stacey Lastella at slastella@ymcanj.org